The Cain Department of Chemical Engineering developed from the Audubon Sugar School, which officially became part of the university in 1897. The first Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering was awarded in 1905 when the department was closely associated with the chemistry department. The graduate program was initiated around 1908 as a part of the sugar engineering program. In 1935, the first PhD awarded by the university was presented to Gipson Carter by the Department of Chemical Engineering. By 1938, when it was transferred to the College of Engineering, the program was already a thriving operation catering to the needs of the local chemical industry.
The department has a long history of stressing excellence in both instructional and research efforts. It was the first in the state, and among the first in the South, to be accredited by the Engineer's Council for Professional Development (ECPD). Initial ECPD accreditation of chemical engineering undergraduate programs was granted to LSU in 1939 shortly after national level accreditation of engineering programs began. Information regarding program accreditation is available at About Us: Accreditation.
Chemical engineering is the most broadly based of all engineering disciplines. The applications of physics and mathematics are common to all fields of engineering; however, chemical engineering requires the understanding and application of the principles of chemistry as well. The American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) has defined chemical engineering as "The profession in which knowledge of mathematics, chemistry, and other natural sciences...is applied with judgment to develop economic ways of using materials and energy for the benefit of mankind." In the broadest sense, chemical engineering is the creative application of chemistry to the solution of significant problems.
Because of this broad and fundamental education, the chemical engineer can contribute to society in a variety of functions, such as pure research, process or product development, process design, plant operation, and corporate or government administration. The work of a chemical engineer encompasses many industries, ranging from the manufacture of chemicals and petroleum products to the development of nuclear energy and space technology. Because of this breadth, there are many special fields in which chemical engineers may concentrate. Chemical engineers today are making unparalleled contributions in the areas of chemical processing, petroleum refining, pollution control and abatement, materials processing, biochemical and biomedical engineering, instrumentation, oceanography, energy, food processing, systems engineering, manufacturing, and computer automation, control, and modeling.
Louisiana and the Gulf Coast region lead the nation in growth of the chemical, petroleum, and materials industries. In these industries, about 40 percent of the professional staffs are chemical engineers. Besides providing technical leadership for the industries, chemical engineers are a major source of management personnel. Chemical engineering also offers many opportunities for independent enterprise. The ChE curriculum at LSU provides sound preparation for work in industry, academia, and government.
The department remains committed to excellence in all its endeavors and to maintaining an appropriate balance between the undergraduate and graduate programs. Several members of the chemical engineering faculty have received local or national recognition for outstanding teaching and achievement (see recent faculty awards & national service activities). They are also active in local and national professional societies. Faculty members are involved in a variety of research areas stressing matters of importance to Louisiana and the nation, including environmental engineering, reaction engineering, catalysis, polymer and textile processing, electrochemical engineering, and biochemical engineering. The faculty also cooperate with faculty from other departments within the university on joint projects and grants. The breadth of background among the faculty and the ongoing research relevant to the ever-changing needs of the chemical engineer ensure that undergraduates receive an up-to-date and thorough education. Each year, in addition to their classroom studies, roughly 20 undergraduate students participate in these research programs.
Noteworthy achievements of the department include:
- consistently among the top chemical engineering departments in the nation in sponsored research, graduate enrollment, and degrees conferred
- research activity currently involves 34 externally funded research projects (> $7.5 million)
- placement of more than 50 LSU graduates in faculty positions around the world, see LSU Chemical Engineering PhD Graduates with Teaching Positions
- four graduates of the department along with one professor emeritus have been elected Fellows of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers; two hold NSF CAREER awards
Historically, the Cain Department of Chemical Engineering built its earliest reputation in sugar technology, which was—at that time—the major industry in the area. Later, emphasis was on unit operations, which formed the basis for the design of equipment in the rapidly expanding petrochemical industry of the state. In the 1960s, the department built strength in computerization and computer control of industrial processes, strengths that continue today. In addition, there is emphasis on pollution control and environmental processes, biochemical processes, materials science and materials processing, heterogeneous catalysis, reaction engineering, electrochemical engineering, and other societal needs. The department views itself as flexible and adaptable rather than as locked into fixed specialties.
A huge strength of the department is its proximity and access to the Mississippi River corridor from Baton Rouge to New Orleans, which includes more than 200 chemical/petrochemical facilities—one of the world’s largest concentrations. These facilities work in tandem with the department on many projects, and they rely on graduating students to fill many of their most critical positions. The American Chemistry Council reports that Louisiana’s chemical industry is the 2nd largest manufacturing industry in the state at $63.3 billion, which makes Louisiana the 2nd largest chemical producing state in the nation. It provides 23,000 direct jobs and another 126,730 related jobs. In addition, Louisiana’s chemical industry generates $2.2 billion in payroll, with an average wage of $95,160, 48% higher than the average manufacturing wage. Find more information about Louisiana’s chemical industry here.
Not only does the department edify chemical engineers that work on the technologies of the day, but it also teaches those that will be employed in industries that do not currently exist. Industries based on nanotechnology, MEMS, biotechnology, fullerenes, among others, are the wave of the future. These industries are in their formative stages, now being nurtured by the chemical engineering graduates of five to ten years ago.
The state of Louisiana is moving from a strong dependence upon oil exploration and crude oil production to a broader base. As a result, diversification by chemical and petroleum companies is a must. The department is already adapting, developing processes and products that will strengthen the future, such as improved catalysts, improved petrochemical processes, improved environmental controls, and polymeric, textile, and geotextile processes. Environmental issues are particularly important, as they impact the entire world, and chemical engineers are particularly well suited to address these issues. The faculty of this department is no exception. They are well educated in the chemical basis and processing related to correcting or at least lessening environmental issues, and are poised to pass along their wisdom and experience to the next generation.